AT&T said that its investments into software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV) have been instrumental in the company's efforts to keep pace with rising Internet traffic stemming from the new coronavirus.
"You don't design a network for a pandemic. But it turns out that building your network on software and open hardware specifications can help make it ready for just about anything," wrote AT&T networking chief Andre Fuetsch in a blog post on the company's website.
Fuetsch explained that demand for the company's Virtual Private Network (VPN) offering skyrocketed 700% during the past few weeks as millions of Americans began working from home. He said that AT&T's network-based IP remote access VPN – AT&T Network-Based IP VPN Remote Access (ANIRA) – uses a cloud-based software platform and a plug-and-play white box gateway that doesn't require a professional installer.
"AT&T was able to accommodate that demand surge without missing a beat. Just a few years ago, that would have been impossible. In fact, we've been adding more capacity to be ready for future needs," Fuetsch wrote.
AT&T's VPN isn't the only in-demand Internet service amid the global pandemic. As people across the world avoid going outdoors, Internet traffic has skyrocketed. According to the FCC, Internet traffic in the US has risen about 20% to 35% on fixed networks and about 10% to 20% on cellular networks in recent weeks. The agency said that demand specifically has increased in suburban, exurban and residential areas and during daytime hours.
While US network operators have said that streaming video and video games have driven the bulk of those increases – stuck-at-home Americans are increasingly turning to the Internet to keep them entertained – remote working applications are also seeing growth. For example, Nokia reported that traffic on videoconferencing service Zoom has grown 700% since February 1 in select networks in the US.
Of course, AT&T isn't the only operator that has invested in SDN, NFV and other software-powered virtualization technologies. After all, such technologies promise to replace expensive, proprietary hardware solutions, typically available from only one vendor, with cheaper, software-powered products that can run on off-the-shelf hardware available from a wide range of vendors. But the telco has been one of the world's most vocal network operators about its efforts, having boasted for years about its goal to virtualize 75% of its network functions by 2020.